November 11, Veteran's Day, is already an emotional day for many of us. It's a day of remembering, of honoring those whose contributions in service of their county is brought full center once a year, once again.
Veterans come in all shape and sizes. Some are hospitalized; some don't remember much due to dementia type diseases or brain injuries in combat. Yes, some towns still put on remarkable parades to honor veterans and their families who made contributions on the homefront. Thousands of little flags blow in the winds across meadows and over hills of national cemeteries and town plots of the entire country.
Describing the concept of Veteran's Day is practically like describing Mom's home-made apple pie. Try to find someone to quarrel with it. Pretty dang hard to do. Ma's pie's not likely to go away anytime soon; neither will Veteran's Day.
Then this year, it got squirrely on us thanks to the lawyer-laden Federal Communication Commission (FCC), chaired by Michael K. Powell, coincidentally the son of General Colin Powell. Long before Michael Powell headed the FCC, he became a veteran who was injured during his military service. [Later he became an attorney. Then he was VP's Dick Cheney's policy advisor.]
It merits knowing a little more about the FCC because in anticipation of their Sanctioning (= Big $$ Fine) a television network, many tv stations felt they could not take the risk to show a particular movie due to its Violence and Profanity. This movie is particularly relevant to Veteran's Day and has garnered numerous awards and is recognized as one that has touched both the intellect and hearts of millions including veterans who have seen it since its release a few years ago -- "Saving Private Ryan."
The human miscalculations of war, military ego, human misfortune, life on the razor's edge, noble intent, pursuit of honor, execution of orders, doing the 'right thing,' the interminable legacy of memory on survivors, and putting another's life before your own are all insights learned from a cinematic portrayal of the World War Two D-Day Invasion. In gatherings of friends of a certain age, it was nearly impossible in the months following the movie's release not to have heard the remark that someone's father or uncle had experienced a significant break-through in repressed war memories and after a half century was beginning to talk about what happened so long ago. Peace, for war survivors, was coming although it had taken the shank of life in coming.
Now imagine that in 2004 TV programmers thought that a time when we have troops in harm's way and we have a Veteran's Day right at hand, an unabridged showing of "Saving Private Ryan," might be a good thing for people to see. Of course, we all know that the On/Off switch still exists on television sets and the channel changer button still permits a modification should someone not care to see the programming first displayed.
For my part this time (since I've seen "Ryan" twice), I watched the HBO special, "Last Letters from Iraq," a shorter yet powerful 1-hour program based on actual families and the significance of portions of actual letters they read out loud. The program did not intend to be representative of all of the 1100+ US troops lost in Iraq; it just meant to tell a story of loss, of some of those lost in the line of duty. It was provocative and did its job. I will remember it always. I wiped my eyes in reverence knowing that this hour-long program could be and might be 3-hours long someday soon.
I imagine anyone watching "Private Ryan" in the regions that had the guts to show it were wiping their eyes too. Were they harmed for the watching? Nah?
Were small children really up late watching it? Nah. . .can't imagine it.
Might they have observed an act of violence if they were in the room or heard what we now call 'expletives deleted' for a swear word. Hmmm -- yeah, might have, but probably no worse than heard in the neighbor kids' big brother's bedroom or walking across the high school basketball court during gym class.
And on the other hand, what if a high school English writing class had shown the HBO program "Last Letters Home?" Would anyone have been ruined for life? I don't recall any profanity. There were signs of family frustration and descriptions of learning about loved ones' deaths in painful ways. Families would need help with grief management for a long time to come. Would this disturb a student? I'd hope so. It would mean they are human after all. Should everyone see such things? Without hesitation, yes. Family and community pain is also a cost of war.
Moments, episodes, singular events of sorts are rarely ones that have such power for defining the totality of our lives. We are already 'set' in some direction; we are not aimless in all walks of our lives. And on this course, we just have to 'get a grip.'
But the FCC is the the Ultimate Judge and Jury of What will be in Your Interest and Mine. The commission serves 5-year terms by request of the presidents, with only 3 may be members of the same political party -- which indicates party affiliation is an explicit need-to-know issue.
Besides Chairman Powell, the other FCC commissioners are attorneys except for Michael J. Capps (PhD U.S. History) and Jonathan S. Adelstein. Kathleen Q. Abernathy and Kevin J. Martin both have prestigious law schools and bars behind them.
As a matter of the FCC's 'process engineering' it is not clear why the networks and stations perceive such a hostile relationship with them when they at best want to understand clearly the rules so that they will be on the 'right side of the law.' However, the FCC does not permit them to 'float' a scenario in advance for them to respond to, such as the "Saving Private Ryan" scenario; they will let them know afterword. Later would be. . . well, too late, unless you're Daddy Deep-pockets! So there's a kind of lunacy built into the system that is supposed to be working for you and me that must be extricated.
Listen, do we think there won't be at least a few movies made about our war in Iraq? Do we think that they won't contain scenes of violence and that to be authentic you might not hear profanity? Come on; you can practically get that by listening closely to the imbedded reporters' remarks real-time.
And how do you think it will play to those faces OVER There? Remember them? The ones who fight for us? The ones who dream of us and crave our approval of their performance? The ones who write those "Last Letters Home?"
If we can't let 'Private Ryan' have his due in a cultural setting, it sends the wrong message to present-day troops about what their stories will mean to us when they need to be heard and whether each of them will matter. Get it?
Maybe we're at a point where we don't need the FCC anymore. We may need something for checks and balances, but this kind of tyrrany shouldn't cause the whole USA so much heartburn. Take a Tums instead and do something constructive with your annoyance at Big Brother's zealous oversight once again.
You can email the commissioners by going to their website, www.fcc.gov.
Go ahead, you know you want to; just do it -- Share your thoughts with them!